Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Day 6: P.D. James Channels Jane Austen

Welcome to Day 6 in our 24 Days of Books, which happily coincides with "new-release Tuesday" (Tuesday being the day of the week when many publishers release hot new titles). The hot new title of the day is Death Comes to Pemberley, by the grand master of the detective novel, P.D. James (with the P.D. standing for Phyllis Dorothy, if you're curious).

P.D. James has written more than twenty books, most of them featuring investigator and poet Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard. The first Adam Dalgliesh novel, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962, followed by thirteen more. The now-91- year-old James had long pondered the idea of combining her two great enthusiasms: reading Jane Austen, one of her long-time favorite authors, and writing detective fiction. [In fact, she is such a fan of the writer that she named one of her daughters Jane.]

Unsure of whether her creative energy would hold out for a fifteenth book featuring Dalgliesh (although she isn’t quite ready to confirm his retirement), she decided to pursue her idea of writing a detective novel based on the characters in Pride and Prejudice -- "Its heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, clever, witty and energetic, is probably the most enchanting female character in English literature." Austen buffs will have great fun spotting references which roam freely in the Austenian landscape of Death Comes to Pemberley.

The book begins in 1803. Elizabeth and Darcy have been happily married for six years and have produced two fine sons. They are preparing for the annual autumn ball which will take place the next evening when a coach careens up the drive carrying Lydia, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister, who with her husband, the very dubious Wickham, has been banned from Pemberley. Lydia stumbles out of the carriage, hysterical, shrieking that Wickham has been murdered. With shocking suddenness, Pemberley is plunged into a frightening mystery.

"Nearly all my detective stories have had their genesis in a place and setting, which is important to any work of fiction and is particularly so in a crime novel, especially if there is contrast between peace, order and beauty and the contaminating eruption of violent death. This contrast is assured by setting a murder mystery in the grounds of Pemberley, a house that in my book enshrines married happiness, children, a household at peace with each other and a daily life in which duty to the community, learning, tradition and an ordered, civilised lifestyle embody all that is good about the age"

According to the bio on her website, her favorite foods are roast duck and freshly picked peas and new potatoes and raspberries and cream. She has no favorite weapon as a crime writer, saying "The weapon should always be appropriate to the murderer."

Detective fiction, she says, is an inherently optimistic genre, affirming our belief that we live in a rational, comprehensible and manageable universe.

Here is a longish (about five and a half minutes) video of the author talking about her newest book:

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